s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: February 2006

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

thumb cuts

I learned a new word yesterday. More properly speaking, I learned a new term. That term is: “thumb cut.” You know those circles that are cut into the pages of a dictionary or a set of LDS scriptures? The ones that help you find a specific tabbed page in the book? That’s a thumb cut.

I bet you didn’t know that. And I’m not saying that because I have a low opinion of the intelligence of my readership. I only make the assumption because I consider myself to be fairly well-informed in the world of book and publishing-related terms, and I only just learned the word. (I would be genuinely interested to know if any of you did know the term beforehand. You would definitely gain points in my book.) And yet, you definitely knew what they were – even if you didn’t know the proper term. Or that there even was a proper term.

I confess that I love knowing the words for things. I love knowing the proper name of something. I fall asleep and dream of rumble strips, semi-raglan sleeves, and sporrans. I wake up, happy to great the day with lemmas, tweeters, and skeins. I love, in particular, words having to do with books and typography. Eyes and counters, feet and spurs, serifs and finials, œthels and thorns, umlauts and diaereses, small caps and drop caps and swash caps and true italics and both kinds of colophon. Along those lines, my Designer’s Lexicon and my Flip Dictionary are two of my favorite reference books.

I’m not sure why I love these terms so much. It’s not to show off or sound intelligent – I rarely use the terms, even when given the chance; I’m afraid I’ll be misunderstood or come off as a snob. (Looking back to the “guillotine” post, this seems to be something of a theme in my life.)

And yet, it’s not technical terms per se that intrigue me. I’m well aware that the world of, say, internal combustion engines offers hundreds of new words for me. I don’t care. I think it needs to be something I encounter in my daily life, something I had often seen, but never named, or disparate instances I should have noticed, but never though to pay attention to until I found a name to gather them all together.

In Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy, to know the name of something is to have ultimate power over it. I’m not so sure that I want ultimate power so much as greater understanding. I often learn the purpose of something at the same time I learn the word for it. (Although not in the case of thumb cuts.) Headers are sideways-turned bricks in a brick wall. (“Normal,” long bricks are stretchers.) The purpose of headers is to bind together two or more layers (or walls) of brick, because one layer of brick isn’t strong enough to support a structure. Which means that if you see a brick wall without headers, it’s only a façade, because it can’t be thick enough to be supporting the building. So now I walk around campus thinking, “that’s a façade, that’s a façade, that might be structural brick . . . that’s a façade . . .”

I can only guess what I’ll learn today.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Tender Mercies

Yesterday it rained. It rained probably more than my home state gets in a year. It rained like someone should have been building an ark. It poured.

I was prepared. I had my warm, waterproof coat, even though it had been in the 50s that morning. I had my umbrella. And I had my fleece-lined waterproof boots.

Unbeknownst to me, the sole on my left boot had finally worn thin enough to crack. I discovered this after I had walked only a few yards towards home. I spent the rest of my trip paying undue attention to the topology of the street and sidewalk, in an effort to avoid the deeper puddles. It didn’t really matter; my sock was still soaked by the time I got to my building.

I don’t have another pair of waterproof shoes. I can’t buy another pair this weekend because my there probably isn’t a shoe store in town that carries my size. There are a couple of places online that I can order shoes, but it could take a week for them to be delivered. For now, I have patched the hole with duct tape, but I have little faith in the measure as even a temporary waterproofing solution.

This morning’s temperature was thirty degrees colder than yesterday’s high, and twelve degrees colder than that with the windchill. But the ground was dry, and we aren’t expected to get much rain or snow in the next week. Hence the title of this post.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Melyngoch learns to knit

She sits on the floor in furious concentration; the tension is palpable. The needles are tiny – ridiculously so – and the yarn – well, thread – is no better. But a leper bandage demands such delicate work, and lepers are not known to scrutinize their dressings for dropped stitches or uneven rows.

I am bewildered as to the source of the fury. In my hands, the needles are friendly, soft and warm. They methodically guide the yarn into place, contemplatively, almost meditatively bringing order (if not quite theoretical perfection) to the unformed skein. The rows of purl gleam like tiny pearls.

She explains that she is competing against the yarn. It is a fight to see who will be in control of whom. She does not know if the needles are on her side or not. (Perhaps they have their own agenda? Perhaps they are waiting to choose sides? Perhaps they are obsessively neutral, like Switzerland?)

She balks when I offer to teach her to purl. In the last hour she has already mastered three forms of armed combat (knitting, casting off and casting on) – the day has been full for the young warrior.

I had not known that knitting was a battle.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Don’t solve my problems, just talk to me

The other day I was on a 45 minute car trip with an acquaintance from the ward. And it came up that I’m learning how to knit, and she mentioned that she knits and I thought “Great. Here’s something we can talk about.” So I started talking about knitting and projects and then I mentioned something about how it’s hard that yarn can be so expensive. And she said that I needed to go to such-and-such fabric store and buy Lion brand yarn because it’s really cheap and comes in a variety of fibers. And that was pretty much the end of the conversation.

Only later did I realize why I had been so vaguely disappointed with the exchange: I really didn’t want my problem solved, I just wanted to talk about it. That’s what we do in my family, we sit around and talk about things – ideas, to be more precise. We don’t rant endlessly about the unalterable facts of life (that’s a pet peeve) although one is welcome to vent.

In my mind, the distinction is one of duration. A rant involves getting worked up about something that’s always bothered you, always will, and will never change. I swear some people actually enjoy being offended. I’m not one of them, and I don’t enjoy being around those who are. Venting on the other hand, is a one time occurrence driven by some recent event. It is done to family or close friends, for the purpose of receiving validation (yes, that was a horribly insensitive or dumb thing to say, you’re right to have been annoyed) and for the purpose of feeling better afterwards.

Anyway, I mostly like to sit around and talk about ideas. It’s easier to start out with the idea of a minor problem because that at least gives you something to work with – a bit of tension in a situation to tease out and explore, but not so much that strong emotions are likely to come into play.

A problem that I’ve noticed in my ward (and more generally, since moving to Illinois), is that I can’t find anyone to talk to! If I present a problem, I either get a glib solution, or some kind of vague comforting. If I mention that it’s tough being an “older” single LDS woman, I hear that I need to date more and go to YSA activities or that I shouldn’t worry so much because everything will work out OK. This is one of the main reasons I’m panicky about Melyngoch going on a mission. It’s not just that she’s been my best friend for more than five years (and therefore doesn’t need to be told the backstory in any given encounters) it’s that I still talk to her at least once a week, and I don’t know what I’ll do when that’s gone. (Don’t take this the wrong way, Petra, but I’m praying that you don’t get admitted into any more schools. Or at least that no one will give you any money.)

At any rate, I now give you four carefully composed, conversation-starting provoking responses to the statement: “Yarn is so expensive.”

1. Does that make knitting a generally more expensive hobby, than, say, tatting or cross-stitching, where one uses substantially less thread or floss?

2. Is it “regular” yarn that’s so expensive, or is it novelty yarn? (And do yarn makers develop novelty yarns just so they can have something to put a huge markup on?)

3. Yarn may be expensive, but it’s probably still cheaper to knit a sweater from expensive yarn than it is to buy a sweater made from the same materials. Plus you can design it and size it to your own specifications.

4. Natural fibers are a lot more expensive than, say, acrylic yarns. If you just enjoy the process of knitting, maybe you can stick to the cheaper stuff. Of course, maybe if something’s worth making, it’s worth making out of good materials. It’s a bit of a balance.

And those are just the ones I thought of myself. Imagine how much more I could come up with if I had someone else to talk to!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Famous People

It would be really cool to be friends with a celebrity.

And I would be a really good celebrity friend. ’Cause everyone else would want to be their friend just because they were a celebrity, but I would be their friend because I could see who they really were on the inside, aside from the fame. They’d be all, “Katya, you’re the only one who really understands me,” and I’d be all “Yeah.”

Of course, if I’m committed to looking on the inside when it comes to friendship, then I really just need to be friends with cool people, regardless of their celebrity status. And then I could hang with all my cool homies, and think about how cool I was by association.

But, really, I think it’s more important to be interesting than to be cool. And if you really pay attention, most people are pretty interesting in some way. Especially the ones who are all quiet, and shy, because while everyone else is yammering away, they’re just taking it in, and thinking about it all. So, really, I should pay more attention to people in general.

But it would be really cool to be friends with a celebrity.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

What I do all week

(or at least for 10 hours a week)

1. Select a delightfully old, dusty book from my book truck. (I’m not being facetious. I really like old books, if not dusty ones. There’s a book called How to Win Your Man and Keep Him from the 30s. I can hardly wait.)

2. Check the book for binding problems and uncut signatures. If the book has binding problems, order an archival box for it. Insert the appropriate streamers for either problem. (I talked to the librarian at the bindery yesterday. He says that they can guillotine the uncut books for me, or I can learn how to do it myself, if I want. Um, hello? Access to a way sweet professional guillotine? I’ll be there, don’t worry. On another note, “guillotine” is something of a problem word for me, because I can never remember if English speakers say /GEE-uh-teen/ or /GILL-uh-teen/, and I don’t want to sound like a snob for overly Frenchifying it. So I end up pausing for great lengths of time before I say the word. And sounding like a hick if I get it wrong. I have similar problems with “niche” and “surveillance,” which I want to pronounce /neesh/ and /sur-VAY-uns/.)

3. Record the language of the original book on a spreadsheet. If the book is in German, record whether the book is printed in Roman or in Fraktur type. (Thus far about half the books are in German, although I had one today in Dutch. I was actually hired for this job for my pseudo-skills in reading German. My supervisors don’t know how pseudo they really are, but they can only improve, right? Also, I can read Fraktur. I don’t remember why, though.)

4. Search for the book in Voyager (our online catalogue). If I find the book in Voyager (i.e., if we already have another copy), I actually have to set it aside, because I don’t know how to do added copies yet. But that doesn’t happen much.

5. Search for the book in OCLC (a joint catalogue shared with thousands of libraries). If I find the book in here, I have to save the record to a file, record the OCLC number, record the Dewey call number (if there is one) or the Library of Congress call number (if there isn’t). (Have I mentioned that we are still on Dewey? This makes us the second largest library in the country, after the New York Public Library, still to be using the Dewey Decimal system. The three other larger libraries are all on Library of Congress, namely, Harvard, Yale and the Library of Congress itself, of course. Actually, I’m told that Harvard originally had its own, independent, system. Typical.)

6. If I am blessed to have found a record which already contains a Dewey number, then I only have to go to WebDewey to double check that the number is still valid, and that I agree with the classification. If I have found a record with an LC number but no Dewey number, I have to go to LibWeb and check for LC to Dewey conversions made by other librarians. Sometimes it’s pretty easy, and a lot of librarians have consistently mapped one number to another. Sometimes it’s harder, and the books have been mapped to different numbers, or the numbers mapped are invalid, or the books mapped treat a different aspect of the subject. LC and Dewey classifications don’t match up perfectly; and Dewey is often a lot more specific, but it’s hard taking advantage of that specificity when you’re still basically unfamiliar with the system.

7. If I have neither a Dewey nor an LC call already supplied, then I have to figure out a call number myself. Which is tricky, considering that call number assignment was the section on which I did the worst in my cataloguing class. (That and headings for government bodies. Couldn’t construct one properly to save my life.) Luckily, I’ve not had any government headings to construct, but real life call number assignments can be much harder than the practice exercises. (How about a workbook for passing the test which grants you a license to sell poisonous herbicides? Anyone know that number? . . . Seriously, do you?)

8. I then save all of this information so that my G., my supervisor, can look over it when she has a chance and tell me everything I’m doing wrong. (Actually she’s very nice about it. I’m just new at it all.)

9. I fix what she tells me to fix, and then I get to enter the records into our catalogue. I search for the OCLC record again (why I have to do this twice is a fault of the current workflow, but there are advantages, for now), add the Dewey number I have now found or constructed and update our holdings on WorldCat. (This last step lets other libraries all over the world know that we, too, now posses this very important 50-year-old German book on the history of economic philosophy, and they are quite welcome to request it from us via Interlibrary Loan.)

10. I copy the record into a local file, then go into Voyager and import that same file. Then I try to save the record to the database. Voyager attempts to validate all of my headings, and if it goes OK, I save the record. If the names don’t validate, I search the OCLC authority files to check if there’s an established heading. If not, I save the record anyway. (I don’t know what to do yet if the series heading doesn’t validate. More questions for G.)

11. I establish new holdings for the record, including updating the location from “main stacks” (the default) to “Oak Street storage facility.” (That’s right. These books are going straight into storage. Way to serve the patrons.)

12. I add item information to the record, including putting a barcode on the book and updating the record to read that this book is “in process.” And then I go back to the holdings information and I submit a request for a spine label.

This is as much as I’ve done so far, although I still have to write the call numbers in the books and then apparently some little undergraduate elves somewhere in the building will put the spine labels on for me. (And I still have to figure out how to make the books come back to me after it all so I can finish up the processing.)

The sick thing is, I kind of enjoy it all.